Boat ramp survey shows safety by numbers

Safe Seas Clean Seas Issue 45, December 2013

This year’s boat ramp survey reveals clear connections between boaties’ approach to safety and the kind of recreational boating they do.

The annual survey is coordinated by MNZ and combines observations and interviews with boaties launching at the ramps to paint a picture of boating behaviour around the country. With 3,380 surveys completed in 2013 – compared with 2,258 and 1,421 in the two previous years – we have a much more detailed picture of national boating practices.

MNZ’s Regional Compliance Manager North, Deane Ingram, who coordinates the programme, says while the survey’s key findings complement other research commissioned by MNZ, the survey is important in its own right.

“The survey’s real value is that it lets us see whether people are doing what they say they do – namely, are they really carrying enough lifejackets on board, or carrying two ways to call for help? We need to see how people are actually behaving, and having a physical presence at the boat ramp for the survey makes that possible,” said Deane.

All or some on board wearing lifejackets

Number wearing lifejackets

In 2013, two-thirds (66%) of vessels surveyed had all of the people on board wearing a lifejacket, with a further 1% having some people wearing a lifejacket. In 2012 only 38% of vessels had all on board wearing a lifejacket while 56% of vessels had some people on board wearing a lifejacket.

Deane says the survey shows that safety messages do appear to be getting through to boaties – with most people (99%) also carrying enough lifejackets for everyone on board and making sure all children wear a lifejacket at all times on the water – but not everyone is taking heed.

Lifejacket carriage on board

Number wearing lifejackets

Only a small proportion of all vessels did not have enough lifejackets for all adults on board, while almost all had enough for all children on board. Looking at lifejacket wearing by vessel type, power boats and yachts were most likely to have enough adult lifejackets on board, and stand-up paddleboards (measured for the first time in 2013) and dinghies were least likely to have enough lifejackets for adults.

Not enough lifejackets carried by vessel type

Number wearing lifejackets

First-time boaties were likely to have enough lifejackets, whereas people who went boating up to 10 times a year were less likely to. Deane says this result demonstrates the tendency for some boaties to grow complacent about safety as they get used to being out on the water.

There was a strong link between vessels with enough adult lifejackets on board and being more likely to have two ways to call for help. Vessels that had insufficient adult lifejackets were likely to have just one waterproof way to call for help and even more likely to have only a cell phone that wasn’t waterproof.

Cell phones (at 89%) were the most common type of communication device carried, with 54% of those who carried them putting their cell phone in a waterproof bag. VHF radios (67%) were the next most common type of communication device carried, followed by flares (55%) and beacons (12%). Seven percent of those surveyed carried no way to call for help.

Communication types carried

Number wearing lifejackets

People not wearing a lifejacket who expressed confidence in their abilities as a boatie were highly likely to just have a cell phone as a way to call for help, as were those who considered that their activity didn’t pose any real risk.

Overall, more than two-thirds of respondents were carrying two ways to call for help and almost all others had one way to call for help (although a cell phone that was not waterproof accounted for 8% of these).

Only 8% of boaties surveyed hadn’t checked the marine weather forecast before heading out. Boaties on vessels without enough adult lifejackets for the adults on board were twice as likely to not have checked the forecast, and those who went boating between one and five times a year were also highly likely to not have checked. Vessels with just one adult on board were strongly likely to not have checked the forecast.

Weather checked before depature

Number wearing lifejackets

Power boats accounted for 80% of all vessels surveyed in 2013, while other significant groups were kayaks and jetskis/PWCs (about 6% each). More than half of the vessels had either one or two people on board, and a further third had three or four people on board. Fewer than 100 vessels had six or more people on board. More than two-thirds of people in the survey population said they went out boating more than 10 times a year.

The survey is undertaken by MNZ’s safe boating advisors, staff from regional councils, Coastguard volunteers, Search and Rescue and ACC. Almost two-thirds of the vessels surveyed were in the North Island, in the area north of and including Bay of Plenty. About a fifth of the vessels surveyed were in the South Island. This distribution approximately reflects the rates of participation in recreational boating across the country.

The lifejacket question

This year, the boat ramp survey asked a question about reasons for not wearing lifejackets. A common theme emerging from responses was an unrealistic assessment of the risk factors.

Almost three-quarters of those not wearing a lifejacket said they didn’t consider they needed one because they had confidence in their abilities as boaties and/or didn’t think there was any real risk involved in what they were doing.

These responses are in line with seven key reasons people gave for not wearing lifejackets, according to market research by Ipsos:

  • „„they’re too uncomfortable
  • „„they’re too expensive
  • they’re uncool
  • they’re insulting to the skipper
  • „„I’m confident in my abilities as a boatie
  • I don’t really think there is a risk
  • I’m confident I can swim well enough.

Other reasons offered in the boat ramp survey, in addition to these, included people deciding that the conditions, activity, size of boat or fact they were wearing a wetsuit meant lifejackets weren’t needed.

People on vessels with enough lifejackets on board were also more likely to be wearing them. Vessels with three adults on board were highly likely to express confidence in their abilities as boaties as a reason for not wearing lifejackets and said they were too uncomfortable to wear, whereas those with two adults on board did not express the same level of confidence. Boaties who go out on the water 6 to 10 times a year were more likely to think there wasn’t a risk.

The key findings from the lifejacket question in the boat ramp survey add to the evidence base about reasons people give for choosing not to wear a lifejacket and are being used to inform MNZ’s safety education work, including our current lifejacket advertising campaign.

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